The latest injury update for Jozy Altidore should have the United States optimistic about, but not counting on, the forward leading it to victory vs. Belgium on Day 20 of the 2014 World Cup.
Just 22 minutes into the Americans' opening match against Ghana, Altidore suffered a strained hamstring. It was severe enough that he needed carried to the sideline on a stretcher.
The U.S. went on to escape the Group of Death without him, beating Ghana, forcing a draw against Portugal and losing by one goal to Germany. But since Altidore's injury, the U.S. has struggled offensively. Only two teams that advanced to the knockout round scored fewer goals than the U.S. in the group stage.
This is why the U.S. soccer team's announcement on Twitter Monday that Altidore will be dressed to play in the round of 16 is a big deal.
However, this doesn't mean Altidore will start. In fact, it doesn't guarantee he'll play. What's certain to U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though, is that an active Altidore—no matter how much time he spends on the field—is beneficial to the red, white and blue. Jeremy Schaap of ESPN reports Altidore will be on the bench when the match kicks off:
Jurgen Klinsmann says Jozy Altidore won't start. Not a surprise.— Jeremy Schaap (@JeremySchaap) July 1, 2014
''Just having him with us tomorrow is huge," Klinsmann said, according to The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo! Sports). "We don't know how much because we need to see how he's going, but he's available. How many minutes? We will see that during the game.''
While Klinsmann is unsure how ready Altidore will be to play, what the forward tweeted on Monday suggests he's ready to risk further injury to help his team win.
ESPN's Jeff Carlisle doesn't buy it. He believes Altidore could play, but that, more likely than not, the whole thing is a smokescreen.
[Klinsmann's statement] would seem to hint that the U.S. manager is engaging in some misdirection, and that Altidore's presence on the bench is just for show. That would certainly make the most sense, for the team and the player. If the U.S. prevails, the quarterfinals would take place four precious days later in Brasilia, allowing Altidore more time to reach a modicum of fitness. His availability could be revisited then.
Does the U.S. need Altidore to play significant minutes to beat Belgium?
To beat Belgium, a team that's allowed just a single goal in entire tournament, the U.S. may need Altidore.
With him sidelined in the Americans' matches against Portugal and Germany, Klinsmann played five midfielders instead of two forwards. This formation change placed more pressure on Clint Dempsey to carry the scoring load. He did it against Portugal but not Germany.
Altidore takes that pressure off of Dempsey's shoulders and adds another element to the U.S. offense. Altidore scored four goals in five World Cup qualifying matches. He's a major reason why the U.S. is in the World Cup, and it could really use him to stay in it.
David Daniels is a columnist at Bleacher Report. He tweets, too.